After Wisconsin easily dispatched opponents from the Atlantic Sun, Patriot, Southern and Summit leagues to start the season, at least the Missouri Valley Conference provided one half of competitive basketball.
The Bradley Braves (3-2) showed some spirit Friday night in front of a split crowd, but the Badgers ultimately put a sloppy first half behind them to prevail, 66-43. Wisconsin (5-0) held its fifth-straight opponent under 50 points and 35% shooting, while turning 17 Bradley turnovers into 18 points the other way.
Senior guard Jordan Taylor was more assertive, yet still looked rusty. He finished with four turnovers and made just 1-of-6 shots in the second half (5-of-16 overall) after a 12-point first half. Luckily the duo of Josh Gasser and Ryan Evans picked up their teammate and joined Taylor in scoring 15 apiece.
Gasser continued his red-hot 3-point shooting, hitting 3-of-4, and is now 14-of-17 (82.4%) for the season from long distance. The sophomore also helped spearhead a solid rebounding effort with eight boards in the absence of Mike Bruesewitz. Bruiser was saddled with foul trouble and played only three minutes in the second half. Jared Berggren reset his personal-best with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Bradley tried to speed up the pace of the game and was able to force turnovers early on. However, their own turnovers proved to be their undoing. Taylor took matters into his own hands midway through the first half with a beautiful offense-defense sequence that is probably giving Bradley forward Jordan Prosser nightmares. Leading 19-9, Taylor stole the ball from the redshirt sophomore and converted a layup. He then stole the inbounds pass from Prosser as well, and was able to find Berggren quickly for a slam dunk to stretch UW's lead to 14 points in an instant.
But the Braves weren't finished. A scrappy 10-2 run in the final five minutes of the half got the Sears Center crowd riled up and momentum on Bradley's side.
The Badgers turned to Gasser and Taylor for clutch back-to-back buckets right before halftime to stem the tide. The second half was all Wisconsin as Bradley's leading scorer Taylor Brown was held to only five points after the break, finishing with 18.
While Bruesewitz's disappearance was concerning yet again, Evans finished with a fantastic line to add to his impressive non-conference start: 15 points, eight rebounds, four steals and two blocks. He teamed with Gasser to score 15 of Wisconsin's 22 points during a 10-minute stretch that broke the game open in the second half.
With his 247th win, Bo Ryan surpassed Doc Meanwell as the school's second all-time winningest coach and now sets his sights on Bud Foster's UW record of 265.
Win number 248 could come against BYU, whom the Badgers face in the championship game of the Chicago Invitational Challenge Saturday night. The Cougars throttled Nevada, 76-55, in the other half of the bracket behind a strong one-two punch of Charles Abouo (22 points) and Noah Hartsock (21).
The matchup with a Missouri Valley team like Bradley is a small step toward better preparation for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but still not enough. On the bright side, at least UW is not in Connecticut's shoes right now. But the upcoming game against BYU should be another step in the right direction, since they have some skilled players with length besides Hartsock (6'8") like the infamous Brandon Davies (6'9").